Author: James, G. P. R. (George Payne Rainsford), 1801?-1860
Armand Jean du Plessis
1585-1642 — Fiction
Richelieu: A Tale of France, v. 2/3
A TALE OF FRANCE.
I advise you that you read
The Cardinal’s malice and his potency
Together: to consider further, that
What his high hatred would effect, wants not
A minister in his power.
IN THREE VOLUMES.
HENRY COLBURN, NEW BURLINGTON STREET.
PRINTED BY S. AND R. BENTLEY,
Dorset Street, Fleet Street.
CHAPTER I., II., III., IV., V., VI., VII., VIII., IX., X., XI., XII.
The motto of which should be “Out of the frying-pan into the fire.”
THE jingle of Claude de Blenau’s spurs, as he descended with a quick step the staircase of the Palais Cardinal, told as plainly as a pair of French spurs could tell, that his heart was lightened of a heavy load since he had last tried their ascent; and the spring of his foot, as he leaped upon his horse, spoke much of renewed hope, and banished apprehension.
But the Devil of it is—(for I must use that homely but happy expression)—the Devil of it is, that the rebound of hope raises us as much above the level of truth, as the depression of fear sinks us below it: and De Blenau, striking his spurs into the sides of his horse, cantered off towards St. Germain as gaily as if all doubt and danger were over, and began to look upon bastilles, tortures, and racks, with all the other et-cetera of Richelieu’s government, as little better than chimeras of the imagination, with which he had nothing farther to do.
Hope sets off at a hand gallop, Consideration soon contents herself with a more moderate pace, and Doubt is reduced, at best, to a slow trot. Thus, as De Blenau began to reflect, he unconsciously drew in the bridle of his horse; and before he had proceeded one league on the way to St. Germain’s, the marks of deep thought were evident both in the pace of the courser and the countenance of the rider; De Blenau knitting his brow and biting his lip, as the various dangers that surrounded him crossed his mind; and the gentle barb, seemingly animated by the same spirit as his master, bending his arched neck and throwing out his feet with as much consideration as if the firm Chemin de St. Germain had been no better than a quagmire.
De Blenau well knew that even in France a man might smile, and smile, and be a villain; and that the fair words of Richelieu too often preceded his most remorseless actions. He remembered also the warning of Mademoiselle de Bourbon, and felt too strongly how insecure a warranty was conscious innocence for his safety; but still he possessed that sort of chivalrous pride which made him look upon flight as degrading under any circumstances, and more especially so when the danger was most apparent. Like the lion, he might have slowly avoided the hunters while unattacked; but once pressed by the chace, he turned to resist or to suffer. Such was the quality of his mind; and in the present instance he resolved to await his fate with firmness, whatsoever that fate might be.
I know not whether an author, like an Old Bailey witness, be, by the laws in that case made and provided, obliged to tell, on every occasion, not only the truth, but the whole truth: however, lest I should offend against any known or unknown statute, be it remarked, that the whole credit due to the determination of De Blenau is not to be attributed to that great and magnanimous quality, called by some persons undaunted resolution, and by others fool-hardiness; for in this as in almost every other proceeding of the human heart, there were two or three little personal motives which mingled with all his ideas, and, without his knowing any thing about it, brought his reasoning to the conclusion aforesaid.
Of these little motives I shall only pick out one as a specimen; but this one in the breast of a young man of five and twenty, living in a romantic age, and blest with a romantic disposition, may be considered all sufficient. Now if it should be love!—As I write this volume entirely for ladies, we are all agreed.—Love it was! and who is there that will presume to say, Claude de Blenau was not completely justified in resolving to hazard all, rather than part with Pauline de Beaumont?
As long as any hesitation had remained in the mind of De Blenau, he had proceeded, as we have seen, with a slow unequal pace; but the moment his determination was fixed, his thoughts turned towards St. Germain’s, and all his ideas concentrating into one of those daydreams, that every young heart is fond to indulge, he spurred on his horse, eager to realize some, at least, of the bright promises which hope so liberally held forth. It was late, however, before he arrived at the end of his journey, and internally cursing the etiquette which required him to change his dress before he could present himself at the Palace, he sent forward his Page to announce his return, and beg an audience of the Queen.
His toilet was not long, and without waiting for the boy’s return, he set out on foot, hoping to join the Queen’s circle before it separated for the evening. In this he was disappointed. Anne of Austria was alone; and though her eyes sparkled with gladness for his unexpected return, and her reception was as kind as his good services required, De Blenau would have been better pleased to have been welcomed by other lips.
“I could scarce credit the news till I saw you, mon Chambellan,” said the Queen, extending her hand for him to kiss; “nor can I truly believe it is you that I behold even now. How have you escaped from that dreadful man?”
“I will tell your Majesty all that has happened,” replied the Count; “and as I have a boon to ask, I think I must represent my sufferings in your Majesty’s cause in the most tremendous colours. But without a jest, I have had little to undergo beyond a forced attendance at the Cardinal’s fête, where the only hard word I received was from L’Angeli, the Duke of Enghien’s fool, who, seeing my riding-dress, asked if I were Puss in Boots.” De Blenau then shortly related all that had occurred during his stay in Paris. “And thus, Madam,” he added, “you see that Chavigni has kept his word; for had it not been for that promise, I doubt not I should have been even now comfortably lodged in the Bastille, with a table at his Majesty’s expense.”
The Queen mused for a moment without making any reply; but from her countenance it seemed that she was not a little troubled by what she had heard.
“De Blenau,” said she at length, in a calm but melancholy voice, “there is something concealed here. The Cardinal has deeper plans in view. As Marie de Bourbon told you, they are plotting my ruin. When first I entered France, that man of blood and treachery resolved to make me his slave. He flattered my tastes, he prevented my wishes, like an insidious serpent he wound himself into my confidence; and I was weak enough to dream that my husband’s minister was my best friend. With as much vanity as insolence, he mistook condescension for love. He sought his opportunity, and dared to insult my ears with his wishes. I need not tell you, De Blenau, what was my reply; but it was such as stung him to the soul. He rose from where he had been kneeling at my feet, and threatened such vengeance, that, as he said, my whole life should be one long succession of miseries. Too truly has he kept his word.”—The Queen paused, and as was often her custom when any circumstance called her memory back to the bitter events of her past life, fell into a deep reverie, from which it was not easy to rouse her.
“Too much of this,” said she at length; “we must look to the present, De Blenau. As the mother of two princes, Richelieu both hates and fears me; and I see that they are plotting my ruin. But yours shall not be involved therein.—De Blenau, you must fly till this storm has passed by.”
“Pardon me, madam,” replied the Count, “but in this I cannot yield your Majesty that obedience I would willingly show under any other circumstances. I cannot, I must not fly. My own honour, madam, requires that I should stay; for if flight be not construed into an evidence of guilt, it may at least be supposed a sign of cowardice.”
“Indeed, indeed! De Blenau,” said the Queen, earnestly, “you must do as I require; nay,” she added, with a mixture of sweetness and dignity, “as I command. If they can prove against you that you have forwarded letters from me to my brother the King of Spain, they will bring you to the block, and will most likely ruin me.”
“I trust to the promise your Majesty gave me when first I undertook to have those letters conveyed to your royal brother King Philip,” answered De Blenau: “you then pledged to me your word that they were alone of a domestic nature, and that they should always continue so, without ever touching upon one subject of external or internal policy, so that my allegiance to my king, and my duty to my country, should alike remain pure and inviolate. I doubt not that your Majesty has pointedly kept this promise; and De Blenau will never fly, while he can lay his hand upon his heart and feel himself innocent.”
“Yes, but remember, my good youth,” replied the Queen, “that this Cardinal,—my husband’s tyrant rather than his subject,—has commanded me, his Queen, to forbear all correspondence with my brother, and has narrowly watched me to prevent that very communication between Philip and myself, which your kindness has found means to procure. Remember too his remorseless nature; and then judge whether he will spare the man who has rendered his precautions vain.”
“Madam,” replied De Blenau, “I do not fear; nothing shall make me fly. Though there be no bounds to what the Cardinal dare attempt, yet his power does not extend to make me a coward!”
“But for my sake,” still persevered Anne of Austria, labouring to persuade him to a measure on which she too well knew his safety depended. “Remember, that if there be proved against me even so small a crime as having sent those letters, my ruin is inevitable, and there are modes of torture which will wrench a secret from the most determined constancy.”
“I fear me,” replied De Blenau, “that some act of mine must have much degraded me in your Majesty’s opinion.”
“No, no, my friend!” said the Queen; “not so indeed,—I do not doubt you in the least: but I would fain persuade you, De Blenau, to that which I know is best and safest.”
“Your Majesty has now given me the strongest reasons for my stay,” replied De Blenau, with a smile; “I have now the means of proving my fidelity to you, and nothing shall tempt me to leave you at this moment. But in the mean time there is one favour I have to request.”
“Name it,” replied, the Queen: “indeed, De Blenau, you might command it.”
“Your Majesty is too good,” said the Count. “I will make my story as brief as possible, but I must explain to you, that Mademoiselle de Beaumont and myself were plighted to each other when very young.”
“I know it, I know it all,” interrupted the Queen, “and that you love each other still; and believe me, my dear De Blenau, neither time nor disappointment has so frozen my heart that I cannot enter warmly into all you feel. Perhaps you never discovered that Anne of Austria was an enthusiast.—But tell me, what difficulty has occurred between you?”
“Why, in truth, Madam,” answered De Blenau, “the difficulty arises with your Majesty.”
“With me!” cried the Queen. “With me, De Blenau! impossible! Nothing could give me more pleasure than to see your union. This Pauline of yours is one of the sweetest girls that ever I beheld; and with all her native un-bought graces, she looks amongst the rest of the court like a wild rose in a flower-garden,—not so cultivated, in truth, but more simply elegant, and sweeter than them all.”
Those who say that all is selfishness, let them tell me how it is that one simple word in praise of those we love, will give a thousand times more pleasure than the warmest commendation of ourselves.
De Blenau’s heart beat, and his eye sparkled, and he paused a moment ere he could reply; nor indeed were his first sentences very distinct. He said a great deal about her Majesty’s goodness,—and his own happiness,—and Pauline’s excellence; all in that sort of confused way, which would make it appear simple nonsense were it written down; but which very clearly conveyed to the Queen how much he loved Pauline, and how much obliged he was to her Majesty for praising her.
After this, he entered rather more regularly into a detail of those circumstances which had induced Mademoiselle de Beaumont to suspect him. “The point which seems to affect her most,” continued De Blenau, “is the visit with which Mademoiselle de Hauteford honoured me by your Majesty’s command, in order to receive from me the last letter from your Majesty to the King of Spain, which I was unhappily prevented from forwarding by my late wounds. Now this, as affecting the character of the Lady your Majesty employed in the business, does certainly require some explanation. In regard to every thing else, Pauline will, I feel sure, consider my word sufficient.”
“Oh, leave it all to me, leave it all to me!” exclaimed the Queen, laughing. “What! jealous already is she, fair maid? But fear not, De Blenau. Did she know you as well as I do, she would doubt herself sooner than De Blenau. However, I undertake to rob the rose of its thorn for you, and leave love without jealousy. A woman is very easily convinced where she loves, and it will be hard if I cannot show her that she has been in the wrong. But take no unworthy advantage of it, De Blenau,” she continued; “for a woman’s heart will not hesitate at trifles, when she wishes to make reparation to a man she loves.”
“All the advantage I could ever wish to take,” replied the Count, “would be, to claim her hand without delay.”
“Nay, nay—that is but a fair advantage,” said the Queen. “Yet,” continued she, after a moment’s pause, “it were not wise to draw the eyes of suspicion upon us at this moment. But there are such things as private marriages, De Blenau.”—
There was no small spice of romance in the character of Anne of Austria; and this, on more than one occasion, led her into various circumstances of danger, affecting both herself and the state. Of an easy and generous spirit, she always became the partisan of the oppressed, and any thing that interested or excited her feelings, was certain to meet encouragement and support, however chimerical or hazardous; while plans of more judgment and propriety were either totally discountenanced, or improperly pursued. This appeared through her whole life, but more especially at an after period, when the Government fell into her own hands, and when, like a child with some fine and complicated machine, she played with the engine of the state, till she deranged all its functions.
It was, perhaps, this spirit of romance, more than any political consideration, which, in the present instance, made her suggest to the Count de Blenau the idea of a private marriage with Pauline de Beaumont; and he, as ardent as herself, and probably as romantic, caught eagerly at a proposal which seemed to promise a more speedy union with the object of his love, than was compatible with all the tedious ceremonies and wearisome etiquette attendant upon a court-marriage of that day.
“I shall not see your Pauline to-night,” said the Queen, continuing the conversation which this proposal had induced. “She excused herself attending my evening circle, on account of a slight indisposition; but to-morrow I will explain every thing on your part, and propose to her myself what we have agreed upon.”
“She is not ill, I trust?” said De Blenau.
“Oh no!” replied the Queen, smiling at the anxiety of his look, “not enough even to alarm a lover, I believe.”
This answer, however, was not sufficient for De Blenau, and taking leave of the Queen, he sent for one of Madame de Beaumont’s servants, through whose intervention he contrived to obtain an audience of no less a person than Louise, Pauline’s suivante. Now Louise was really a pretty woman, and doubtless her face might have claimed remembrance from many a man who had nothing else to think of. De Blenau remembered it too, but without any reference to its beauty, which, indeed, he had never stayed to inquire into.
It must be remembered, that the morning previous to his journey to Paris, the moment before he was joined by Chavigni, his eye had been attracted by that nobleman, engaged in earnest conversation with a girl, habited in the dress of dear Languedoc; and he now found in the soubrette of Mademoiselle de Beaumont, the very individual he had seen in such circumstances. All this did not very much enhance the regard of De Blenau towards Louise; and he satisfied himself with a simple inquiry concerning her mistress’s health, adding a slight recommendation to herself, to take care whom she gossiped with while she remained at St. Germain, conveyed in that stately manner, which made Louise resolve to hate him most cordially for the rest of her life, and declare that he was not half so nice a gentleman as Monsieur de Chavigni, who was a counsellor into the bargain.
After a variety of confused dreams, concerning queens and cardinals, bastilles and private marriages, De Blenau woke to enjoy one of those bright mornings which often shine out in the first of autumn,—memorials of summer, when summer itself is gone. It was too early to present himself at the Palace; but he had now a theme on which his thoughts were not unwilling to dwell, and therefore as soon as he was dressed, he sauntered out, most lover-like, into the Park, occupied with the hope of future happiness, and scarcely sensible of any external thing, save the soothing influence of the morning air, and the cheerful hum of awakening nature.
As time wore on, however,—and, probably, it did so faster than he fancied,—his attention was called towards the Palace by an unusual degree of bustle and activity amongst the attendants, who were now seen passing to and fro along the terrace, with all the busy haste of a nest of emmets disturbed in their unceasing industry.
His curiosity being excited, he quitted the principal alley in which he had been walking, and ascending the flight of steps leading to the terrace, entered the Palace by the small door of the left wing. As none of the servants immediately presented themselves, he proceeded by one of the side staircases to the principal saloon, where he expected to meet some of the valets de chambre, who generally at that hour awaited the rising of the Queen.
On opening the door, however, he was surprised to find Anne of Austria, already risen, together with the Dauphin and the young Duke of Anjou, the principal ladies of the court, and several menial attendants, all habited in travelling costume; while various trunk-mails, saddle-bags, portmanteaus, &c. lay about the room; some already stuffed to the gorge with their appropriate contents, and others opening their wide jaws to receive whatever their owners chose to cram them withal.
As soon as De Blenau entered this scene of unprincely confusion, the quick eyes of Anne of Austria lighted upon him, and, advancing from the group of ladies to whom she had been speaking, she seemed surprised to see him in the simple morning costume of the court.
“Why, De Blenau!” exclaimed she, “we wait for you, and you have neither boots nor cloak. Have you not seen the Page I sent to you?”
“No, indeed, Madam,” replied De Blenau; “but having loitered in the Park some time, I have probably thus missed receiving your commands.”
“Then you have not heard,” said the Queen, “we have been honoured this morning by a summons to join the King at Chantilly.”
“Indeed!” rejoined De Blenau thoughtfully, “What should this mean, I wonder? It is strange! Richelieu was to be there last night: so I heard it rumoured yesterday in Paris.”
“I fear me,” answered the Queen, in a low tone, “that the storm is about to burst upon our head. A servant informs me, that riding this morning, shortly after sunrise, near